There's little reason to believe Michigan State won't keep rolling Saturday night versus Texas Southern, but coach Tom Izzo will get another chance to scrutinize his frontcourt depth since the 25th-ranked Spartans will be without Branden Dawson.
Dawson, a 6-foot-6 forward who averages 10.8 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds, suffered a non-displaced fracture of his left wrist getting fouled on a dunk attempt during a 66-46 win over Eastern Michigan on Wednesday. The injury added to the ugliness of a victory in which Michigan State shot only 37.7 percent but held the Eagles to 22.6 percent en route to their third straight win by at least 20 points.
"I feel bad for Branden, as he's been practicing so well over the last few weeks," Izzo said in a statement Thursday. "But we also feel a bit fortunate when you look at the video of the game - it certainly could have been worse. BJ has been a quick healer in the past, and we anticipate this being the same."
Izzo's team, though, went 4-5 late last season when Dawson was sidelined by a broken hand.
The Spartans now target Dawson's return for their Big Ten opener Dec. 30 versus Maryland, but he shouldn't be sorely missed for either this game or Monday's contest versus The Citadel. Michigan State (8-3) is 5-0 at the Breslin Center this season, averaging 80.8 points while limiting opponents to 52.6 per game on 31.0 percent shooting.
Dawson's impact on the glass, where the Spartans have amassed a plus-12.4 rebounding margin at home and plus-8.4 overall, is where others will have to step up to please the always demanding Izzo.
Freshman Melvin Clark Jr. likely will fill Dawson's place in the starting lineup, having done so three times already when the senior was battling the flu. The 6-6 Clark averaged 11.0 points on 12-of-21 shooting in those three starts but only pulled down eight rebounds. He has averaged 11.0 points in the last three games after failing to score in 11 combined minutes in Michigan State's losses to Kansas and Notre Dame.
"Clark has got to play a little better," Izzo said. "Sometimes he's catching the ball and it's off like a hot potato. He'll get better at it. The guy has only had about four years of basketball, so he's going to improve on leaps and bounds."
While the Spartans are renown for their interior toughness, Izzo also has adapted to their current strength of perimeter shooting. Michigan State is hitting 44.4 percent from 3-point range and making 9.1 per contest - the highest season marks since he became coach in 1995. Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Travis Trice have combined to hit 86 of Michigan State's 100 3-pointers, with Forbes shooting 50.9 percent from deep and Valentine right behind at 50.0.
East Lansing is the fourth stop on a 10-game road swing for Texas Southern (1-8), which was pounded 94-54 at No. 8 Gonzaga on Monday. Deverell Biggs and Madarious Gibbs each scored 12 points for the Tigers, who have been outscored by an average of 21.1 in losing all eight of their road games.
Texas Southern has struggled all season defensively, allowing opponents to shoot 45.3 percent from 3-point range and 50.7 percent overall while yielding 76.7 points per game.
Michigan State has won both games between the teams, including a 69-41 rout Nov. 18, 2012, in the most recent meeting.